Zak Brown recalls the advice Martin Brundle gave him in his first year as McLaren

Jamie Woodhouse
McLaren CEO Zak Brown. Silverstone July 2022.

McLaren chief executive Zak Brown walks through the paddock. Silverstone July 2022.

McLaren Racing CEO Zak Brown said Martin Brundle told him he could not be everyone’s friend in the paddock, and that showed in 2022.

Initially starting out as executive director of the McLaren Technology Group, when Brown was promoted to CEO of McLaren Racing in 2018, suddenly he was now the one calling the shots at the head of their Formula 1 division.

Brown explained that this required a mental shift from being a friend in the paddock to a competitor, this advice given to him by former F1 driver Brundle.

And in 2022 we saw that more combative side of Brown emerge, as McLaren and Alpine battled over the services of Oscar Piastri, while he also angered Red Bull with his comments regarding their minor overspend of the 2021 cost cap.

“It has been an exciting year, I hope next year is a little less exciting,” said Brown on the Marshall Pruett Podcast.

“When I took over running McLaren, my background is I worked with all these teams and leagues, lots of them.

“And in the business I was in before, I also needed to be a bit of Switzerland, because I was doing business with everyone and there wasn’t a competitive element if you’d like between me and the various teams.

“And I remember my first year at Spa, Martin Brundle gave me some advice, and it stuck with me.

“There was inappropriate language, so I won’t repeat exactly what he said, but he effectively told me that I was going to have to change my style from being everyone’s friend in pit-lane, to being pretty competitive and tough.

“And it was interesting because I’ve got an immense amount of respect for all the teams we race against, including some of those that I haven’t necessarily gotten along with, I’ve got a tremendous amount of respect for what they and their teams have accomplished.

“I also know that very few, very competitive people are trying to take drivers from you, and sponsors and staff and it’s a very competitive sport, on and off the track.

“And so, I think if you look at those that have had the most success, they make big, tough decisions. And especially as you’re kind of coming up the ranks, they’re quite stable and have been around for a long time.

“We’ve got to get our best driver line-ups put together and that means we’ve got to do what we think is in our best interest and is correct, but maybe isn’t popular.

“I’m trying to build the most exciting racing team that the fans adore, and our partners. And our competition, we want to beat just like they want to beat us.

“So I also try and be very transparent, I recognise not everything I say, everyone’s going to agree with or like, but I put it out there and make my position known.

“I can tell you there’s a lot of people that don’t operate as transparently, so I’m just trying to do what’s best for McLaren, get us as competitive as possible as quickly as possible and everything that we do, do the right things and don’t be afraid.

“If you’re going to try and race with the big boys in the sport, you’re going to have to sometimes get in there and do a little bit of arm wrestling.

“It’s certainly not how I’d like every year to go, but if we’ve got to make a few tough decisions along the way to get us to a place where we’ve elevated our game, I want to be judged on my results in five, 10 years time, not next week.”

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